Receiving his early education at Sultan Sulaiman Primary School and later at Sultan Sulaiman Secondary School, Kuala Terengganu, he then went overseas to further his studies at the prestigious Geelong Grammar School in Geelong, Australia. In 1988, he finished his studies at U.S. International University-Europe (now known as Alliant International University) in London, obtaining his Bachelor of Arts Degree in International Relations on 9 June 1988.
He had participated in the military course PRE SMC (E) 33 at the Army School of Languages from 2 November 1982 to 31 May 1983, and then attended the military course SMC 33 at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in England from 3 May 1983, finishing the course of Cadet Officer on 9 December 1983. He was commissioned to the rank of Honorary Lieutenant on 1 March 1984 and put in his service in the Royal Cavalry.
His next appointment on 11 July 1988 was as State Administrative Officer at the State Economic Planning Unit (UPEN) in Wisma Darul Iman, Kuala Terengganu. Besides working for UPEN, he was also handling the job of Assistant District Land Officer at the Kuala Terengganu District Land Office.
His Majesty became the youngest Malay ruler when he acceded to the Terengganu throne at the age of 36 when he was appointed as the Sultan of Terengganu on the 15 May 1998 following the death of his father, Sultan Mahmud Al-Muktafi Billah Shah. His Majesty was crowned as the 16th Sultan of Terengganu on the 4 March 1999. He has the unusual distinction of being the 31st and 51st longest reigning current monarch (being the Sultan of Terengganu as well as Yang di-Pertuan Agong).
His Majesty was appointed Timbalan Yang di-Pertuan Agong on the 26 April 1999 after Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah, the Sultan of Selangor was appointed as the eleventh Yang di-Pertuan Agong. His Majesty was then the acting Yang di-Pertuan Agong on the 21 November 2001 following the death of Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah. His Majesty was once again appointed as the Timbalan Yang di-Pertuan Agong on the 13 December 2001 after the Conference of Malay Rulers decided to appoint Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin Ibni Al-Marhum Tuanku Syed Putra Jamalullail as the twelfth Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
On 3 November 2006, Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin was elected by the Conference of Rulers to succeed Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin Syed Putra Jamalullail (Raja of Perlis) to become the 13th Yang di-Pertuan Agong of Malaysia with his term starting December 13 2006 for a five year term following a rotation system practised by the Rulers. The Conference of Malay Rulers has appointed Tuanku Abdul Halim Mu’azam Shah Ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Badlishah as the Timbalan Yang di-Pertuan Agong. The appointment of His Majesty Tuanku Mizan was the 4th following a second rotation system amongst the nine Malay Rulers. This five-year rotational constitutional monarchy is unique to Malaysia.
Sultan Mizan, 44, is the second youngest Yang di-Pertuan Agong after Tuanku Syed Putra Almarhum Syed Hassan Jamalullail of Perlis who took office as King on January 4, 1961, at the age of 41. He is also the first King to be born after the independence day of Malaysia.
His son Tengku Muhammad Ismail, at the age of eight was made the Regent of Terengganu on 12 November 2006. Due to his age, a three-member Regency Advisory Council was set-up to discharge the duties on behalf of the Regent. The council is headed by Raja Tengku Baderulzaman, who is Sultan Mizan’s younger brother. The others are Sultan Mizan’s uncle Tengku Sri Laksamana Raja Tengku Sulaiman Ismail, and Federal Court judge Datuk Abdul Kadir Sulaiman.
A Ruler concerned about the welfare of his subjects, Sultan Mizan makes efforts to go to all mosques in Terengganu for Friday prayers to be with the people. His Majesty also continues with the practice of giving alms to orphans and the poor every Friday as was done by his late father Sultan Mahmud Al-Muktafi Billah Shah.
During his younger days, Sultan Mizan liked to play football. Sultan Mizan is also active in sports like football, golf, taekwondo and scuba diving, but due to his busy schedule is only able to concentrate on equestrian sports.
He was President of the Council for Islam and Malay Culture of Terengganu from 1 June 1991 to December 1995. His Majesty Tuanku Mizan was the Honorary Colonel in the Royal Armour. His Majesty Sultan Mizan was also appointed as the first Chancellor of University Malaysia Terengganu (UMT) from 1 September 2001 to 31 August 2006.
Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin also hold 7th degree black belt taekwon-do awarded by ITF/GTF Malaysia.
Other honours and titles he has received include the Darjah Seri Setia Sultan Mahmud Terengganu Yang Amat Terpuji (S.S.M.T) on 12 February 1989, the Darjah Seri Paduka Mahkota Terengganu Yang Amat Dihormati (S.P.M.T.) on 6 March 1982, the Darjah Kerabat Baginda Tuanku Syed Putra Jamalulail (D.K.) on 28 May 1998, the Darjah Kerabat Johor Yang Amat Dihormati (D.K. ) and the Darjah Seri Paduka Mahkota Johor (S.P.M.J.) on 8 April 1986.
Mizan Zainal Abidin holds the rank of Marshal of the Royal Malaysian Air Force.